March into Milder Weather in Santa Barbara

Welcome to our March, and final Santa Barbara post! This entry includes: a rocket launch at Vandenberg and visits from Cathy & Don, and my Mom. It is now 3/31, we just left Santa Barbara earlier today and I’m posting now from Arizona, where we will be for the rest of the calendar year. This may be a record for me, posting the final blog entry ON our final day in our location – yeah!

March 1 – Dave rented a car for us to drive out to Vandenberg for the Atlas V rocket launch (with a top secret payload!) Normally you could watch from Surf Beach, but they blocked access and instead we pulled over on the side of Rt. 1 along with the other cars to take in the view!

Launch videos:

After the launch we had breakfast at a local diner in Lompoc (I was surprised at how busy it was) and then hit some of the local grape!

Babcock Winery & Vineyards – so glad we decided to stop here, as it was recommended to us and happened to also share a driveway with Melville (whose Chardonnay I tried and really liked.) This winery is special in that the wines are universally yummy and the décor and experience of the winery is very eclectic, cool, and welcoming.

More on the winery: Babcock was the only American named as one of the Top 10 Small Production Winemakers in the world by the James Beard Foundation.

Babcock Vineyards was established in 1978 by Mona and Walter Babcock and was one of the first to plant vines in what is now the Santa Rita Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area.) The Babcock’s son, Bryan, stayed on to finish the harvest in Sept 1984 instead of returning to complete his master’s thesis in enology at UC Davis. Bryan, Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, and other local wine pioneers submitted a petition to establish the Santa Rita Hills AVA in late 1997, approval was granted in 2001. This AVA includes 2,700 acres planted to pinot noir, chardonnay, and 18 other cool climate varieties.

Bryan Babcock is the winemaker who is heavy into farming as well as he pioneered and patented a new cane-suspension trellis system which reduced vineyard costs by 25% and helps to support higher quality fruit (by supporting an area on the vines that is typically weak.) The inspiration for this new system came out of the ’08 recession – just prior to it, Babcock wanted to increase his production to 40k cases and to increase his yield/acre. Following the recession he decided to half his acreage and reduce production to 10-12k cases/year, and to sell direct to consumers rather than distributors to increase margins.

Our tasting: Our favorites included: Block 15 Cabernet (2014 Estelle Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley), Top Cream Chardonnay (2015 Estate Grown, Santa Rita Hills – SRH), Ocean’s Ghost Pinot Noir (2014 Estate, SRH), and Deja Vu Pinot Noir (2014 Bentrock Vineyard, SRH). We also liked the Slice of Heaven Pinot Noir (2014 Rita’s Crown Vineyard – highest vineyard in SRH, where the hill top looks ‘sliced’ into a crown), the estate Sauvignon Blanc, and the Upper Crust Syrah.

Melville Winery:  Winery was founded in 1989 in Sonoma County by Ron Melville, a former stockbroker. He decided to move the operation in 1996 to Santa Rita Hills to grow cool-climate pinot, chardonnay, and syrah. Melville has 120 acres under vine and produces 30k cases/year.  Melville has 16 clones of pinot noir, 9 of syrah, and 6 of chardonnay – clones are 100% replicas of its parent and enables predictability and distinction and diversity in the expression of a varietal.  Our favorites included the Sandy Pinot Noir (2014), the 2014 Estate Pinot, Hi Density Syrah, and the 2014 Estate Chardonnay.

Our host Alvin was very cool – a sculptor who designed the Mission miniature collection (my Mom bought one when she visited!) and is one of the best ambassadors of the city Lompoc could hope for!

Longoria:  Wine was good/not mind-blowing, but the build up from all the recommendations we’ve heard resulted in a slight let-down experience-wise as the host wasn’t the most hospitable we’ve encountered! Our favorites included the Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay, Fe Ciega Pinot Noir (they sell these grapes to Foxen too), and the Santa Ynez Valley Tempranillo.  The winery was established in 1982, produces 3k cases/year, and Rick Longoria has always served as the winemaker.

It was nice to cap off a quick mid week day off with a great dinner at Bouchon, which turned out to be more modern American than French as we expected.

Thurs – dinner at The Lark. This place is pretty hard to get into – after eating there I can see why!  Fabulous food, decent portions, and such a cool atmosphere.  We were kept toasty warm with a heater and felt like we were cooking by the end of the meal.

Fri 3/4 dinner at Little Kitchen – this place is a gem, very casual, with unique dishes such as a southwest chicken tikka masala and Swedish meatballs!

Sat 3/5 – Cathy and Don visit from San Diego!  We had hoped to catch a jazz ‘procession’ from a bar on State St over to a venue on Garden. Turns out the 11am ‘parade’ changed until noon.  At noon this is what we got to see 🙂  Pretty funny but in the interim we enjoyed some tasty pizza and local beer and gossip at Patxi’s!

Upon Cathy and Don’s arrival, we enjoyed drinks at Convivo at the Santa Barbara Inn, directly across from East Beach!  Then an early dinner at Opal and then onto the Jim Messina (of Loggins & Messina, Poco, and Buffalo Springfield fame) show. The concert was a benefit for the William Sansum Diabetes Center and the opening act was Jackson Gillies who is a pretty talented teenager and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a young child, and continues to receive regular treatments at the Center. The venue at Lobero Theater was pretty special – small intimate theater in the typical Santa Barbara style architecture – white walls, red roof tiles, curved archways, etc.

Sun – brunch at Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach! We are becoming regulars here!

Mom’s visit (week of 3/11) – so happy to have my Mom come out for a vacation, and to take time off from work!

Sun 3/12 – We started the day with a drive along Shoreline Park (not much to see with heavy marine layer), followed it with lunch at Eureka (great burgers!) and shopping on State St, then onto:

Santa Barbara Mission: Nice to visit this again in the warm sunny weather! It was also cool to see Alvin’s Mission miniatures (my Mom bought one as a gift!)

Sacred Garden:

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Cemetery Garden:

Back of main church and Fig Tree:

Inside the chapel:


Alice Keck Park:  Such a nice little park right near the house – loved the tree overhanging the street and the flowers hiding in and around it!

Such a cool tree!

Inside the park:

Mon 3/13 – Solvang (Sunny Fields in Danish) and Los Olivos

En route – the lovely lookout stop near San Marcos Pass!

Solvang – the town was a bit more active and animated than the last time I visited with friends in Jan – could be the much nicer weather and we didn’t go on a day when many stores are closed!

Lunch at the Solvang Restaurant – a traditional Danish meatball and sausage meal! We also brought some tasty danishes home from Mortenson’s Bakery.  We laughed later that night when we wondered what the Danes call Danishes – do they call them ‘us’??!!

The Copenhagen House, including Amber museum:

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Then onto Los Olivos for some shopping and wine tasting. We went to Arthur Earl, randomly selected as we parked right in front of it! We had a fun time in the tasting room where we were the only customers. Our host was very friendly and her name was Nancy too! Arthur and Earl have been business partners for more than 20 years – having met while working in the tech industry. They started by acquiring a small existing winery called Alexander and Wayne (their middle names). Then 5 years later they decided to start another operation focused on varietals from the Rhone valley in France, northern Italy, and northern Spain. Case production is tiny – only 2k cases/year (100-300 cases per wine.) Dave seemed to like the wines a lot more than me (I tasted a bit of vinegar) – though I did enjoy the few that we bought: 2014 Viognier, 2011 Cinsaut, and the 2014 Dolcetto. We also liked the Nebbiolo and the A Genoux Rhone blend was decent.  Nancy told us that the meaning of A Genoux is French for ‘on your knees’, and was coined by the author Alexandre Degas who was also a gourmet chef and a wine collector – he said that his wine was so good you should drink on your knees without your hat!

We walked around Los Olivos and Dave saw a sign for a Sea Smoke tasting at the Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop – we were very excited to try it as we’ve seen it around town but never tasted (we did sign up for their online wait list to buy.) We ended up learning that Sea Smoke could be all smoke and mirrors as their success has been primarily due to hiring expert marketers to drum up awareness and interest in the wines 2 years before their first harvest! The Southing pinot we tried was very good – however, our host introduced us to other wines that much tastier and came at a much better price point! Our favorites: 2013 Center of Effort Pinot Noir (Edna Valley) – fabulous!! (started by the owner of Raytheon) and the Herman Story 2014 Nuts & Bolts Syrah. We also tried the 2014 Wrath 115/667 pinot noir and the Transcendence 2014 F Street pinot noir. The 2014 Luli pinot noir and the 2015 Jillhammer pinot rose was quite good too.


The hummingbirds loved the bird feeder on the porch!

Tues 3/14 – We started the day at Stearns Wharf and had lunch at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. They had some of the best baked clams outside of Il Cappuccino, and that’s saying something! 🙂

Stearns Wharf: we aren’t used to the marine layer/fog (are they the same? I should know this coming from the maritime town of Sag Harbor) that seemed to roll in the day after my Mom arrived (no offense, ha ha!) – it has typically been clear except for rainy days. Quite strange to not be able to see the ocean at all from just a few hundred yards away.  The marine layer did add a cool sense of mystery to the pics!

Carriage Museum – this was an unexpected treat, free admission, and a nicely curated collection of carriages (more than 40), saddles, and other riding accessories, including saddles once owned by Will Rogers, Clark Gable, and Cisco Kid. If you visit, be sure to drive around to the back of the museum for parking. The main lot was packed with cars from the city college.


Front room- smaller carriages atop, saddles, bit and bridles, and other gear

Main room – larger carriages in a western theme ‘town’:

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Maritime Museum and harbor – another hit on the tourist circuit – small and very nicely put together maritime museum. Learned that in 1969 there was a serious oil spill in the area.  Well worth the time and cost to visit!

Point Conception Lighthouse Fresnel Lens. Fresnel lens was designed & built in Paris in 1854. Point Conception is dubbed the Cape Horn of the Pacific, as the coast shifts from a north/south orientation to an east/west one in the Santa Barbara Channel. Point Conception is at the west end of the channel, where the coast makes an abrupt 90-degree turn northward and where mariners have to make an abrupt course correction.  Point Conception is also known as the Graveyard of the Pacific given the number of shipwrecks! The Santa Ana winds that originate on land and blow out to the sea at high speeds also heavily affect the areas around the Channel Islands producing high winds and waves.

Keepers of the Santa Barbara Lighthouse – In 1856 construction of the Santa Barbara Lighthouse started. The first keeper of the station was Albert Williams, who traveled from Maine in 1850. His wife Julia and their daughter arrived in 1853. Albert tired of the position and in 1865 his wife Julia took over, and continued to do so for more than 40 years and while raising 6 children! The 1925 earthquake destroyed the lighthouse and was replaced with an automatic tower in 1935.

Diving Technology and Abalone Diving

Mario M. Castagnola Commercial Fishing – commercial fishing has always been in existence in Santa Barbara, starting thousands of years ago by the Chumash indians and with plenty of similarities in tools and approaches used today – despite so much progress! 5 fisheries include: dive, harpoon, trap, net, and hook and line.

Channel Islands – wine industry lasted from 1880-1936. A Frenchman, Caire, began planting grapes on Santa Cruz Island in the early 1880s, with zin being predominant. At its height the winery produced more than 83,000 gallons of wine from 150 acres. Wine was then shipped to the mainland in casks and bottled. Sales were stopped after Caire’s permit expired in 1929, though the grapes were still sold on the mainland, mainly to the Italians who made wine in their basement.  Last vintage produced in 1936 and the vines were removed in 1937:

Other channel islands displays:

Ship Models – left: Prisoner of War models made with beef bones & human hair! 1792-1815.  Unlike real ships, models truly stand the test of time!  The oldest Egyptian ship model dates to about 2600 BC!!!:

Oil industry:

Goleta’s Canons:

Marilyn S. Tennity Surfing Exhibit – surfing’s origins can be traced back to Polynesian kings in the 1800s where Hawaiian royalty rode 20 ft surfboards called Olos (carved out of Koa trees and weighed 70lbs +). After missionaries arrived in Hawaii they declared surfing forbidden as they thought it was too hedonistic! Duke Kahanamoku (I’m assuming who the Duke’s restaurant in Hi is named after) and the Beach Boys of Waikiki revived the sport in the early 1900s. Duke, an Olympic gold medal swimmer, became surfing’s famous ambassador after performing in surfing exhibitions worldwide.

Navigation, Cuba wreck (happened on the same day as the Honda Point disaster where 14 Clemson Class destroyers were shipwrecked on Honda Point, largest peacetime loss in US naval history), and the Mark 46 Torpedo:

Around the harbor & beach:

Wed 3/15 – Started the day with breakfast at the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach:

Then onto the Botanic Gardens, founded in 1926 and dedicated to conserving native California plants. fun fact: one third of California’s native plants grow nowhere else on Earth! The botanic gardens felt a bit more of a park for hiking then botanical gardens. The view across the Meadow across to the Santa Ynez mountains was like a postcard. I liked the shaded Redwood section and the Island View area was worth the detour!  

Meadow area:



Mission Dam, Campbell Bridge ,and Mission Creek::

Manzanita & Japanese Tea Garden. The tea house is designed to blend into its surroundings and reflect cultural design traditions. Special architecture features include: a small door to enter the tea room, preparation room for the server, sliding door from the tea room to the garden:

Island View:

and the Museum of Natural History later that day, another well done museum in Santa Barbara definitely worth the time and price of admission! The bird gallery was very impressive!

Bird hall – more than 500 bird mounts of 300 bird species – I kind of got into identifying birds when we are on safari.  I had to do a little research after the fact for our photo book and enjoyed it! I also think the cliff swallows are very cute, especially after Dave and I had a nest right above our front door in Scottsdale last year 🙂  Also have grown to appreciate hummingbirds – there are so many in CA and it’s fun to try to get close enough to get them on camera!

Incredible collection – organized by what the birds eat – nectar, seeds, fish, animals – never really thought too much about what birds eat – other than vultures we saw chowing down on lion leftovers in Africa!

Mineral & Gem gallery:

Chumash Indian hall: The Chumash were different from all other Indians in language and customs, they also weren’t a tribe in the usual sense. Each village has its own government, headed by 1 or 2 chiefs, who had prestige and influence, but little power. The chief maintained and distributed food stores, money, and valuables for the benefit of the community.  The Chumash had a money economy based on shell beads. Strands of standardized lengths, valued according to workmanship, were used in trade and as payment for services. Beads and other goods were destroyed in annual mourning ceremonies – to help prevent inflation.

Chumash rock art: Known to be the most elaborate and colorful Indian art in North America, Chumash rock art – was ceremonial and meaningful, and was not meant to be decorative. Knowledge of the meaning behind the art has not survived.

The TOMOL, or Chumash Plank canoe, was known to the greatest invention of the CA Indians. The TOMOL was so well-engineered that no interior framing other than a single crossbeam was required to support the hull. No metal was used in construction. Averaging 20 ft in length and carrying up to 10 people, these canoes were used for fishing and hunting sea mammals, and for travel and trade between the Channel Islands and the mainland. They were essential to the Chumash economy.

Explorers & Missionaries: The Chumash first saw white men in 1542, though contact was sporadic until 1770s. Early explorers admired the Chumash for their friendly nature and technical achievements. To colonize CA, the Spanish founded 5 missions in Chumash territory from 1172-1804 (we visited 2, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.) The padres attracted the Indians with gifts and apparent supernatural power, converted them to Christianity, and then confined them to prevent desertion. After baptism, Indians were forced to wear clothes and live in mission housing. All were taught some basic trade – weaving, farming, iron working, masonry. Daily life was a rigid schedule of work, prayer, and meals. Despite the padres’ good intentions, these strange new living conditions fostered diseases and death. Chumash religion, economy, social and political systems quickly collapsed. Few aspects of native culture survived the missions.

Astronomy center (more for kids), but it was fun to check out the Thermal image videocamera and Chumash plants across the creek:

Cartwright Hall of Plants & Insects:

Geology & Paleontology hall: apparently Santa Rosa Island (in the Channel Islands) was an island paradise for pygmy mammoths! Phillip C Orr, a researcher at the museum, collected over 200 mammoth parts representing about 50 mammoths on Santa Rosa Island. Orr believed that humans and mammoths lived at the same time and that humans contributed to the mammoths’ extinction by hunting them. His theories were not widely accepted as his dates for living on the island were much older than those widely accepted by archeologists. He pointed to burned areas on the island that contained charcoal and mammoth fragments that he believed were the remains of mammoth butcher and cooking sites.

Thurs 3/16 – I took my Mom to the Santa Barbara Courthouse to visit the infamous clock tower:


Clock tower views:

Interior – mural courtroom:

Then we drove around the Funk Zone and over to the massive Moreton Bay Fig Tree:

We picked up Dave and cruised over to the Four Seasons Biltmore for lunch with a view:

My Mom and I enjoyed a sunset cruise sail with Sunset Kidd, one of the few clear days to enjoy the views and sunset:

Before cruising:

Departing the harbor:

Out on the water:

Sea lions!

Gorgeous sunset:

Returning to the harbor:

Fri 3/17 – We day-tripped over to Ojai to enjoy the scenic drive and views of Lake Casita:

lunch at the famous Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. This resort was founded by Edward Libbey, who you can read more about below!

Then into the town for some shopping, great little boutiques, ice cream, and a wonderful department store called Rains that had a little bit of everything!

I’ve always wanted to visit this resort after I saw it numerous times as the backdrop of a Brenda Dygraf exercise video (yes, VHS) I used to work out to regularly in the 80s!  It didn’t disappoint!

More about Ojai: The Ojai Valley was home to the early Chumash Indians before becoming a Spanish land grant n 1837. In 1917, a fire destroyed many of the buildings. Fortunately, a prominent glass manufacturer (and resident) named Edward Libbey fell in love with the town and helped rebuild the town center faithful to its Spanish heritage. Today Ojai, with its small population of 8,900, is a haven for artists, musicians, and health enthusiasts.

Sat 3/18 – Lunch at Cold Spring Tavern. Cold Spring Tavern was established as a stagecoach stop in 1865. Originally known as the “Cold Spring Relay Station”, it was a place to change horses and allow travelers to rest and enjoy a meal as they crossed the San Marcos pass constructed by Chinese laborers. It’s amazing to think that these stagecoaches traveled through these mountains, when it’s a bit terrifying to do it today in a car!  You feel like you’re stepping back in time visiting the tavern as well as the surrounding buildings…..

Great view of the San Marcos Pass bridge:

The physical appearance of the Tavern has been protected by a series of owners including Adelaide Ovington and her daughter Audrey who purchased the Tavern in 1941. It has been operating as a restaurant/tavern continuously since that date.

Bar history – There was a water bottling plant in what is now The Log Cabin Bar.  Forty or so years ago the leasee was losing money. Who knew that water would be so in demand as it is now. He just planned to leave the machinery there as it was too large to get it through the door so we removed the end wall and built the beautiful stone fireplace in it’s place. Inside the bar/restaurant:

Tiniest shop, shack, and other buildings:

Ojai jail – Across from the Chinese Road Gang House is the Ojai Jail which was built by Andrew Van Curen in 1873.  Mr. Van Curen was the sheriff in Ojai for a very long time.  When he retired he offered his jail (which he built on his property) to the city of Ojai at least three times but, for whatever reason, they did not accept his offer.  Audrey, on the other hand, accepted the first time!  It was once featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” as the only jail that ever crossed a mountain.  The two buildings now keep each other company through the ages.

Road Gang House, where the Chinese Road Gang bunked when they built the Toll Road through the rugged San Marcos Pass in 1868.  We use it now to host special parties and events including that business meeting you’ve been wanting to host somewhere unique.

Food, glorious food – the restaurants in Santa Barbara are top notch!

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Looking for whales – supposedly they like to turn in closer to shore near Shoreline Park – not this day!

Around town:

Shen Yun – Fri 3/24 – I’ve been curious about this show for some time and thought it would be a Chinese Cirque du Soleil – not so much.  It was more traditional Chinese music and performances, supplemented with multimedia displays. Definitely worth your time, though ticket prices should be cut in half! My favorite segments were Yellow Blossoms and Mongolian Drums.

Lunchtime hooky – after traveling for ~24 hours between Sun, 3/26 and Mon 3/27 for a 3 hour meeting in NYC (and having a migraine all Sun night to boot), I decided I was going to play hooky for a few hours that Wed afternoon.  Dave and I had a great lunch at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company down on Stearn’s Wharf, then checked out the nearby sundeck with great views and attached to a winery.

then enjoyed a wine tasting at Riverbench Winery. Crazy thing is, I thought I had until 3pm until my next call – turns out it was 2pm and I was 1/2 hour late!  I just didn’t look at my phone the whole time – otherwise the reminders would’ve popped up!  Lucky for me it was a call with a vendor and I’m the customer, we laughed it off and still had the call.  I felt so bad!

Riverbench rocked – their specialties are pinot and chardonnay. We loved the Bedrock and the Estate Chardonnays as well as the Clone 115 and Reserve pinot. Their winery dog, Roy, is 14 years old, and spent most of his time relaxing on the couch – sweet old dog!  He was featured in the CA Wine Dog book when he was young and more spry!

Final thoughts: Santa Barbara was a great place to live for a few months.

What we liked:

  • The general landscape, water views, etc. were all very pretty
  • Location of our house, walking distance to downtown
  • Santa Barbara architecture
  • Restaurants were across the board great!
  • People were very friendly
  • Museums and attractions were nicely done
  • A good variety of entertainment options (though the bigger concerts and events are in the summer)

What we didn’t:

  • Weather – too much rain, this was rare we understand!
  • Water’s too cold to swim in
  • Prices are high
  • The homeless and mentally ill are overwhelming and unsettling – in fact one was just screaming past the house

While we really enjoyed our stay here, we wouldn’t consider it for retirement or a potential relocation. It’s very nice – however we also see how challenging it is to be on the west coast when friends and family are in Central and East time zones.  It also is not that easy for me workwise – rolling out of bed, directly onto a conference call, and having zero ramp up time in the morning – never leaving the house until noon at the earliest, etc. Wah wah, I know – it is a worthwhile price to pay for the flexibility – and the afternoons are very relaxing and I often end my day somewhat early.

Our favorite destinations continue to include: Charleston, Napa, and Santa Fe.  But Chicago still tops the list in terms of everything it has to offer (except good weather year round)!  Our longer term plan is to have Dave continue working in Phoenix through the rest of the year, save some $$, then relocate to Sarasota (they are opening free standing ERs Dave can work in), and get a Chicago place for the warmer months – we’ll be working snowbirds!


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